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Still Dedicated : Virginia’s Standout Dawn Staley Wants to Win a Championship for Hank Gathers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The University of Virginia is intent on repeating in the women’s final four, and All-American guard Dawn Staley will be playing for two.

Staley, the only sophomore to earn All-American honors last spring, comes from the same North Philadelphia neighborhood and attended the same high school as the late Loyola Marymount star, Hank Gathers. After he died last March, she wrote his uniform number, 44, on the sneakers she wore throughout the playoffs. She hasn’t forgotten him.

“He had a dream of winning a national championship,” she said from Charlottesville last week. “He got robbed of (the chance). I was going to dedicate (a title) to him. I’d still like to do that this year.”

The Cavaliers were beaten in the semifinals but are expected to be stronger this season. They’re ranked No. 1 by USA Today and Dick Vitale’s magazine and are a consensus top-three choice. Along with Staley, a 5-foot-6 shooting guard who averaged 17.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and and 4.4 assists, the team will again have the 6-5 twins, Heather and Heidi Burge of Palos Verdes Estates, and will add standout forward Tonya Cardoza, who sat out last season and is considered better than the one starter the team lost to graduation.

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“I’m taking it game by game, but our goal is to always try to go further than we did before, so we’re talking about a championship,” Staley said. “I’m trying to concentrate on little things and be mentally tough.”

A shy, soft-spoken woman who is known for challenging bigger players near the basket, Staley was in her dormitory room on March 4 when a teammate told her Gathers had collapsed and died. At first, it didn’t register. “I didn’t believe her. But then I said, ‘Why would she joke about Hank Gathers?’ We turned on ESPN. I still couldn’t believe it,” Staley remembered.

“It makes you think this can happen to you.”

As a fellow Dobbins Tech graduate who used to play basketball with Gathers in the neighborhood recreation center, Staley said she’s not surprised at the outpouring of respect for him around the rough projects where they grew up.

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“In the neighborhood, we were all like a family, we all looked out for each other,” she said. “People looked up to him because he wasn’t into the things people would think in a bad area. He lived in the neighborhood, but he wasn’t of the neighborhood.”

Like this season’s Loyola team, Staley won’t wear any visible commemoration of Gathers this fall. “I did that out of respect for him. This year I won’t, but in the back of my mind he’s there.”


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